The Digital Audio Opportunity: Falling On Deaf Ears?

Peter Charlton, chief commercial officer, Nova Entertainment
By Peter Charlton, chief commercial officer, Nova Entertainment | 5 July 2019
Peter Charlton

At the end of last year, I commented to this very publication that we were in the midst of the ‘renaissance of audio in media’, a decidedly English way of declaring this the golden age of audio – a positive sentiment echoed by leaders across the category.

Half way into 2019 and I’m grateful to see it wasn’t just the just the Christmas spirit talking.

PwC’s most recent Entertainment and Media Outlook report forecasts the audio sector as primed for continuous growth, labelling it one of the few to demonstrate that ‘a strong traditional and growing digital revenue stream can coexist.’

Rather than fall victim to cannibalisation at the hands of new digital distribution methods, as many have done before it, broadcast radio (declared ‘dead’ many times over), continues to grow by not just retaining audiences, but attracting new ones. This growth is a trend PwC predicts will continue steadily year-on-year for at least the next five years.

While the predicted ‘explosion’ of digital audio is undoubtedly the major growth opportunity for the category as a whole, broadcast radio is far from fading into obscurity. In fact, it seems to be carving out a new place for itself. In what is now a heavily-curated world, the experience of lean-back, programmed radio is increasingly seen as taking the pressure off a decision-fatigued consumer.

While the diehard radio rep inside me is loving this, the fact is that like any good parent, we can’t afford to play favourites. As an audio business, our success lies in our ability to deliver, as PwC puts it, ‘engaging, personality-led content for audiences, no matter the medium’.

Where radio previously lacked a solution that catered to consumer appetite for on-demand content and advertiser appetite for addressability, digital audio has answered that need and audiences have responded in kind. Advertisers and their agencies, however, have proven more apprehensive.

Consumer uptake of digital audio (namely, streaming, internet radio, and podcasting), is clear. More Australians than ever are now using online audio services, consuming more than 11 hours of content per week.

Podcasting has crossed firmly into the mainstream at a global level, with over 50% of the US population 12+ now having listened. While admittedly Australia is not quite there yet, we’re sitting on a healthy 22%. History would indicate a strong likelihood to follow a similar trajectory. In fact, PwC estimates digital audio will account for a mind-bending $773m of the total audio category’s $1,760m spend by 2023. I’m inclined to agree.

Even the more pessimistic among us would find it hard to deny that the stage is set for success. With a proliferation of premium content, including locally produced podcasts such as The Teacher’s Pet making waves and winning fans around the world, there is no shortage of quality or variety in digital audio content.

Consumers’ ease of access to audio content throughout the day is also increasing, thanks to the rise of smart speakers. The audio streaming experience can now seamlessly follow the user from the home, to the car, to a mobile device with a simple command. With over 1.35m Australians (and counting) now owning a smart speaker, and 5G internet finally making its long-awaited debut in Australia, we can only expect this behaviour to edge its way ever-closer to the ‘norm’.

Brands are also taking heed, directing considerable attention and investment toward developing their audio or ‘sonic’ identities. Visa launched their sensory brand suite at Cannes in 2017 and returned this year to share the results. Aimed at assuring customers their point-of-sale payments are secure, Visa saw a 14% increase in positive brand perception for customers who experienced the sensory experience, led by an upbeat sound upon payment, compared with those who didn't.

So, if audience appetite is undeniable, category momentum is clear, and a client’s audio emphasis only increasing, it begs the question – what is stopping spend following suit?

Anecdotally, the feedback we receive from our agency partners centres largely on measurement, more specifically a reluctance to invest until the ‘kinks’ are ironed out and there is definitive proof of its effectiveness. Admittedly, radio owners have work to do on measurement, transactional automation, and adaptable creative. We’re absolutely aware of that and actively working on it.

In the mean-time, the significant benefits that digital audio presents for brands are available right now, with early adoption promising an enormous competitive advantage for savvy advertisers. Perhaps most critically, it offers something very few (if any) other channels can, and that is uncluttered ad space. Podcasting, for example, has an average of four minutes of advertising per hour, vs. 15 minutes on TV, or 15 ads on digital. That alone should be enough to pique any planner’s interest.

While no one disputes that agencies are under greater pressure than ever before to prove accountability and efficacy of investment, are we so far down the data rabbit hole that we can’t take even the most calculated of risks without it?

Waiting for perfection is an opportunity we’ve rarely been afforded as an industry to date, and together we’ve still managed to produce ground-breaking work for our clients that’s made a tangible impact on their business. Digital audio is another opportunity for us to do so.

So true to my original dramatic flair, I’d consider this a ‘call to arms’ to agencies to act now and consider the potential of digital audio for your clients. If I were a betting man, I’d confidently wager you won’t regret it.

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